3P Creation Process For Palace Of Fine Arts San Francisco

I live pretty close to Palace of Fine Art in San Francisco but have never been there at night.  I know it looks very beautiful and different at night when it is well lit.  The image in the header was taken at 6:59pm, Nov 2, 23 minutes after sunset.  See following the complete 3P Creation Process how I created this image.  The first 6 photos posted below were camera raw files and only the last image was retouched.


  • I googled Palace of Fine Art and checked several sites such as Flickr, Pinterest for existing photos of this place.  Instead of repeating what other photographers have done, I prefer to photograph something different and unique.
  • I did a quick logistic planning to find out the exact sunset time – local sunset was 6:36pm, and twilight was 7:07pm.  See detail of my logistic planning approach.
  • I scheduled to arrive 30 minutes before sunset and arrived a little after 6 (30 minutes before sunset).
    Note: I typically arrive at landscape photo venue 30 minutes before sunset, particularly if I have never photographed at the location before.  I wanted to give myself some cushion time to scout the best spot and angle to set up everything (tripod, timer shutter control, lens choice, filter choice etc.).  In case the venue is in mountainous area and requires hike or climb, I will schedule to arrive even earlier. 

Photo creation

1. 6:05pm.  My first test shot  to measure lighting and exposure.

Aperture priority.  ISO100, 16mm, f/18, 1/4 sec

2. 6:08pm.  Test shot again.  No change on camera settings nor composition.  Notice the camera automatically lengthened the exposure due to darker light/environment.  The problem was that too many swans, birds and uneven water surface added unnecessary “noise” for the picture

Aperture priority.  ISO100, 16mm, f/18, 0.6 sec

3. 6:15pm.  Waited for the sky to darken further and slightly reduced aperture so I could lengthen the exposure in order to smooth water surface.  However it was very windy that day and swan, wave problem still persisted.  Lights finally was on.

Aperture priority. ISO100, 16mm, f/20, 12 sec

4. 6:31pm.  Zoomed in a bit to reduce the number of tree branches in my frame (top left corner).  Mounted shutter release control (when you want longer exposure than 30 seconds, you need this because most cameras only allow up to 30 second exposure).  Switched to Bulb mode to execute long exposure to “clean up” water surface and swans/birds

Bulb mode.  ISO100, 18mm, f/20, 180 sec

5. 6:45pm.  The previous image’s sky was too bright.  Waited for 10+ minutes to take exactly the same shot using the same camera setting.  I believe I used Lee ND filters before this image and they were removed at this point.

Buld mode.  ISO100, 18mm, f/20, 180 sec

6. 6:59pm. Waited for another 10+ minutes and the sky turned really dark at this moment.  Increased the exposure time by 30 seconds with slight aperture change and finally got the image I wanted

ISO100, 18mm, f/22, 210 sec

Post Processing

Image was post processed using my Magic Light Landscape Workflow Adobe Lightroom Presets, mainly to increase contrast and vibrance in color.  It took less than 5 seconds.

Learn More


Join Belinda's Photography Club
Get Belinda's exclusive travel, landscape photography tips, and free giveaways!


  1. I think what you have here is terrific. I very much like the basic approach of telling people about your approach to taking the photographs and your thoughts along the way to lead you to decisions and specific steps.

    I have found for myself there is another piece of how I work when I set out to take, let’s say ‘landscape’ photographs. All of what you have here I do also in my own way. I also go to the place where I want to work and settle in with it mentally if you will, to allow myself to ‘see’ what is there. I find that this pause is helpful to see photographs.

    In this way, my aim is to in a small way to share my experience (and a great man once said you can share your thoughts but it is much harder any many times not possible to share your experience.


  2. Belinda

    Ron, thanks for the comment. I completely understand what you mean. Photography is a combination of visual and mental process for us to discover what we see externally and internally. The visual process to me is the easier part – it could be trained. The mental process is unique to each individual, as we see and experience the world in a different way. Thanks again for your visit and exchange of thought.

  3. thanks Belinda, I’m just getting into night photography and have a lot to learn. I haven’t used bulb yet. It was good to see what happens when using really long exposures.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest